The Elephant in the Room

Like a lot of art, not everyone “gets” these elephant sculptures. I’ve heard some negative comments. But I think they are really something. I’ve been wanting to write about this art exhibit in the Embassy for a few months, and finally have a few minutes to share some images.

A little background: Bangladesh is the reluctant host to nearly a million refugees from Burma. The Rohingya crisis has spawned many tragedies, both humanitarian and environmental. The two combinesd in an unfortunate clash that happened when human beings and wild elephants needed the same space.

Refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh

A large refugee camp sits right on top of a migration ground for wild elephants. Unfortunately there has been loss of life on both sides, as neither the confused elephants nor the panicked refugees know how to handle the situation.

A Bangladeshi artist had an idea. If the people understood the elephants, maybe they would seek ways to coexist and avoid conflict. His idea was to make life-size sculptures and place them in the refugee camps.

Elephant sculptures in the field.

His next insight was to convince the people to not just accept the elephants. He explained to me: “they have to love the elephants.” His approach was to ask the people for their old clothing. He used the scraps to make the “skin” for his elephant sculptures.

On display in the Embassy

The artist loaned three elephants to the Embassy. We have them on display just outside the main door. Aside from the patchwork skins, they are very lifelike.

An elephant…

I had realized that art could be a tool for social activism, but I had only thought about that point in the abstract. This project uses art for conservation and disaster relief. That’s pretty meaningful. I’m grateful to Mr. Shadhin for lending his work to the Embassy for a few months.

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